You may be mourning your daily commute because it was time to be alone with your thoughts and decompress, you might miss social outings and the joy they brought, or you may miss being able to volunteer and feel a sense of purpose. All of that can create disenfranchised grief. “Grief is a reaction to a loss, not just a reaction to a death,” he says.
Don’t dismiss how you feel: acknowledging the loss and what it means to you is the first step.
Get to the root of the grief
You might mistake the grief you are feeling with depression and anxiety. Defoe says some of the symptoms are the same: numbness, trouble focusing, feelings of being overwhelmed. But he says your feelings of grief won’t go away unless you address them. “We say depression and anxiety are conditions of the mind, while grief is a condition of the heart. The grief that is associated with loss has to be dealt with on the emotional and the heart level. You can’t think your way into better grief,” says Defoe.
Even as more people are getting vaccinated and life is slowly returning to “normal,” Defoe says, it’s important to deal with these feelings, because they won’t go away. “They stay with us. When we don’t take the time to appropriately grieve our pain and our emotional stuff that we put aside, it comes out. We’ll get angry, we’ll get apathetic, we start realizing that there’s some things that used to not bother us, but now we’re easily triggered,” he says.
Talk to someone and tell them what you need
Talk to friends about how you are feeling. Let them know how they can support you in grief. You might find a therapist helpful. Finding community in support groups, whether in person or online, can also help you create connections and process the grief. There’s power in being with people who have an understanding of what you’re going through. “One of the least advantageous things that we can do is try to mourn by ourselves,” says Defoe.
Find a ritual to honor the loss
For losses associated with disenfranchised grief, there are no established, societally-approved rituals. “There’s no casket, there’s no burial. There’s nothing like that — you have to figure out how to navigate a new world without even a sense of conclusion,” says Defoe.
Create your own conclusionary rituals. It could be journaling, creating a piece of art, planting flowers, running a race or getting a tattoo. Remember, all grief is processed at a very personal, individual level, so rituals will be specific to you and how you are feeling. “We don’t get over losses,” says Defoe. “We have to then figure out a way to move beyond them.”
The audio portion of this episode was produced by Clare Marie Schneider.